This report summarizes the findings from information collected during three sets of focus groups conducted for a study on employment supports for people with disabilities sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study is intended to increase the understanding of the role of various supports in helping people with disabilities find and maintain employment.
The findings in this report are from focus groups conducted with 284 participants with significant disabilities, all of whom had obtained a measure of employment success, in Los Angeles, California; Newark, New Jersey; and Seattle/Tacoma, Washington, between April and December 2000. The focus groups were conducted between April and December 2000. All participants were 18 years old or older, had a significant disability with onset prior to first substantial employment, and had annual earnings of at least $8,240 before taxes and transfers. At the time of the focus groups, the latter was the federal poverty line for a family of one.1 It is approximately equivalent to working 30 hours a week at the federal minimum wage. Basic socio-demographic, disability, and employment information was collected via a telephone screening instrument and a pre-focus group registration form.
A slight majority of participants were male, and their average age was 38 at the time of interview. Just over half (55 percent) had experienced disability onset before age 13. Just over half were single, 61 percent were white, 16 percent were African-American, and 13 percent were of Hispanic ethnicity. While all had substantial earnings, 23 percent had annual earnings below $10,000. Median earnings were under $20,000. Only 7 percent had earnings above $50,000. Many lived in households with other income; median household income was about $40,000. The largest impairment category was mental illness (30 percent), followed by communication (21 percent) and mobility (19 percent) impairments.
Prior to each focus group session, participants were asked to rank on a scale of 1 (very important) to 5 (not important) the importance of various supports in helping them find and maintain employment. About 75 percent (or more) of participants assigned a rank of 1 or 2 to each of five supports (listed in descending order): family encouragement; access to health insurance; skills development and training; college; and employer accommodations. Job coach services, personal assistance services (PAS) and special education ranked lowest, with more than 45 percent of participants assigning a rank of 4 or 5 to these supports.
We asked focus group participants to discuss supports that were important to them at three critical periods of their lives: during childhood or at disability onset; obtaining first employment or first employment after disability onset; and in maintaining current employment. We present the findings from these focus groups below. Because we found that the supports used to obtain first employment and those used to maintain current employment were very similar, we have combined the discussion of these topics into one section. (author abstract)